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Richards re-elected in diverse Banff-Airdrie riding, Liberals earn minority government

“I've always saw myself as a voice for the people of the riding, whether I've been in government or opposition. I always feel there's a way you can be effective and getting called out for those viewpoints. You just take a different approach, and I'll continue to take the approach I have. I believe we can still get results for our area. I believe that I can still be an effective voice for our constituents and always continue to work to do that.”
20210914 Banff-Airdrie federal election forum JL 0014
Conservative Party incumbent Blake Richards speaks to the crowd at the Banff-Airdrie election forum hosted by the Cochrane and District Chamber of Commerce at RockPointe Church Sept. 14. (Jessica Lee/The Cochrane Eagle)

Longtime Conservative incumbent Blake Richards will return to Ottawa for a fifth term after being re-elected by Banff-Airdrie constituents in the federal election.

Richards, who serves as the Conservative Party whip, received 57 per cent of the vote, with Elections Canada having released the unofficial results on Tuesday morning (Sept. 21).

He returns to parliament as a member of the opposition with a Liberal Party minority in government. He said he will continue to focus on bringing forward the concerns and needs of the diverse riding.

“I've always saw myself as a voice for the people of the riding, whether I've been in government or opposition," Richards said Tuesday morning. "I always feel there's a way you can be effective and getting called out for those viewpoints. You just take a different approach, and I'll continue to take the approach I have. I believe we can still get results for our area. I believe that I can still be an effective voice for our constituents and always continue to work to do that.”

Following five weeks on the campaign trail, Richards said the priorities he heard from residents were recovery from COVID-19, affordability issues and mental health impacts from the pandemic.

He said a focus of elected officials across the country will be helping businesses and individuals economically recover.

“We’ve got some work to do to help those industries to recover," he said. "We’ve got work to do to get people back to work.”

The incumbent Richards took an early lead and continued to pad his lead as election night continued, leading to an early call on being re-elected.

Though handily winning the riding, the percentage represents the lowest total received for Richards.

In 2019, Richards received 71.09 per cent of the vote and his previous lowest total was 63.37 per cent in 2015. The highest percentage he garnered was 74.7 per cent in 2011 in the former Wild Rose riding.

The riding is one of the safest Conservative Party strongholds in the country and has had a Conservative MP since the Canadian Alliance won in 2000.

This election saw nine candidates come forward, featuring the usual Liberal, NDP and Green candidates but it also had three independents, the newly created Maverick Party and a return of the People’s Party of Canada.

The NDP’s Sarah Zagoda placed second in Banff-Airdrie with 16.2 per cent of the vote and 11,673 people cast their ballot for the party.

Zagoda, who was running for the first time, said the results are promising in the region for the NDP.

“Actually, it shows that Airdrie – well our area, Banff-Airdrie – people want more progressive change here. You know, the NDP Party has a lot of great things to offer. I went to all the forums, did my best with a small budget in three weeks. So I'm really happy with the results. I'm really happy with the results, given what we had.”

David Gamble, the Liberal Party candidate in the region, said they did better than anticipated locally and the return of a Liberal minority government, which included picking up seats in Alberta, is promising.

“I think it’s great we got some seats in Alberta,” he said. “I think that was an area we could have some improvement. I think it shows it’s important we have a strong provincial Liberal Party. You see the results from the NDP here, picking up another seat … and I think it’s clear a provincial party has a huge impact on the federal party.” 

The riding has 111,566 registered electors, according to statistics from Elections Canada.

As of Tuesday morning, 72,172 votes had been counted, representing 64.69 per cent of eligible voters.

The advance polls were busy again, with 27,124 casting their vote, representing 24.5 per cent of voters in the region. The number was a small increase from when 25,818 Banff-Airdrie voters went to advanced polls in 2019.

The area has regularly featured a strong turnout, with 73.1 per cent of eligible voters coming out in 2019 and 73.25 per cent in 2015.

The Banff-Airdrie riding is unique in its large geographical size of 12,358 square kilometres with the more left-leaning communities of Banff and Canmore in the west to the more conservative leaning Airdrie and Cochrane in the east.

The Bow Valley has issues revolving around tourism and the environment while the more populated eastern region has priorities around industrial and manufacturing needs.

Since the election was called on Aug. 15, candidates made appearances throughout the region and there were three election forums in Canmore, Airdrie and Cochrane.

The only Bow Valley candidate in the Banff-Airdrie riding, the Green Party’s Aidan Blum, congratulated Richards on his win.

“I would urge him to not take this victory too well, though,” he said. “He has been comfortable in this riding since 2008 and a lot of people have not been given the support they need.”

While disappointed in the result, Blum knew it was a long shot from the get-go.

Blum secured 1.8 per cent of the vote and 1,330 total votes.

He said one of his goals was to get his name known, face recognized and issues discussed.

“It was a long road for a progressive in this riding and this province,” he said. “But I wanted to be out there and start building that trust.”

Blum said he hopes Richards takes the climate crisis and the housing crisis more seriously, including in the Bow Valley where housing is extremely expensive and out of reach for many.

“I think there is an appetite for different views, different new ideas and different strategies,” he said.

Richards said it is unclear when he will return to Ottawa, but it is likely to be in the coming weeks as the priorities of economic recovery are vital for the region.

“I’ve had the opportunity to focus very heavily, just even with the roles I’ve had both in government and opposition to focus on our tourism industry, but also keep the other interests of oil and gas and other industries in mind and getting people back to work,” he said. “It’s trying to make sure you juggle the different balls and make sure that you’re communicating with all parts of the riding, so you can ensure you’re on top of the issues that are important to people."

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS

  • Blake Richards (Conservative Party): 41,105 votes and 57 per cent
  • Sarah Zagoda (NDP): 11,673 votes and 16.2 per cent
  • David Gamble (Liberal Party): 8,766 votes and 12.1 per cent
  • Nadine Wellwood (PPC): 5,548 votes and 7.7 per cent
  • Derek Sloan (Independent): 1,831 votes and 2.5 per cent
  • Tariq Elnaga (Maverick Party): 1,395 votes and 1.9 per cent
  • Aidan Blum (Green Party): 1,330 votes and 1.8 per cent
  • Caroline O’Driscoll (Independent): 460 votes and 0.6 per cent
  • Ron Voss (Independent): 64 votes and 0.1 per cent

– With files from Cathy Ellis, Scott Strasser